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VoIP phones: should my business get a hardphone or a softphone?

Published in Voice over IP

Many organizations are considering the switch from standard telephone lines to Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony. If yours is among those businesses, there’s a number of important questions you should ask yourself.

These questions include:

- Is a VoIP system reliable enough?
- What about my telephones?
- Is it compatible with my premium-rate or toll-free number?

In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about what VoIP is, what types of telephones that can be used with VoIP, and how to use VoIP with your existing telephone numbers. When you have read through the article, you should be able to make an informed decision on whether or not VoIP is right for your business.

So what is VoIP really?

Let’s start with the term VoIP itself. What is it really, how does it work and what are the pros and cons of using VoIP?

For decades, telephone calls have been routed as an analogue signal over the traditional copper wire network, known as the public switched telephone network or PSTN.

VoiP, by contrast, uses networking technology to send your phonecalls as digital information to the receiving end. Even though VoIP can use many different types of networking technologies, for most businesses this simply means that they use the same internet connection that they already use for email, browsing, and online banking, for their phone calls.

VoIP converts an analog signal (your voice) into a digital signal, which is then transmitted as small data packets over the network. At the receiver’s end, these packets are assembled and converted back to an analog signal so that you can be heard. When the receiver replies, the same process is repeated in the opposite direction.

Despite this back-and-forth of data transmissions, communicating over VoIP is as smooth as with old-fashioned analog telephony, but which one big difference: the sound quality is can be much better with VoIP. You can call someone halfway around the world, and it will seem as if that person is there with you, in the same room.

If you are using your current internet connection for VoIP telephony, be sure to check if the available bandwidth is sufficient. Most modern broadband connections should support VoIP, making the investment in VoIP relatively low.
VoIP is not compatible with a standard phone

Because VoIP sends its data over a network connection, you will need special telephones that connect to a network.

There are two categories of VoIP phones available: so-called hardphones and softphones.

The difference between these two is like the difference between hardware and software for computers: one is a physical device, the other runs on your computer or mobile phone.

Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages.
Hardphones: advantages and disadvantages

Hardphones are physical telephones; the actual devices that you can place on your desk. In fact, hardphones look remarkably much like normal telephones, although ‘under the hood’ they run a VoIP system that connects to your internet instead of the old telephone line.

Advantages of a hardphone are that it feels familiar; all the controls and the way it is operated is the same as a standard telephone. An important difference from softphones is that you can make or receive calls anytime, even when your computer is switched off.

Hardphones have two important disadvantages over softphones.

The first is that the software these phones run to the handles the digital and networking part is not easy to upgrade, for example to increase security or add new functionality.

The second disadvantage compared to softphones is that a hardphone is more expensive to buy.

Softphones: advantages and disadvantages

A softphone is basically a piece of software that does the same thing as a hardphone, but that runs on your computer. So instead of a physical phone on your desk, a softphone sits as an icon on your computer, or an app on your phone.

Softphones are more common than you might think and you probably have used one without knowing. Very well known examples of softphones are Skype, Viber, Google Talk and Bria.

One of the biggest advantages of a softphone is that the software is easily or even automatically updated, giving you always the latest security and feature updates.

Another disadvantage is the lack of a physical interface. For some people, speaking into a microphone on a headset is not the same as holding a telephone set to your ear. Although different USB telephone handsets have appeared on the market, they feel more like toys than serious communication devices.

Will VoIP work with my toll-free or national telephone number?

The short answer is: yes. Your existing telephone number, whether that is a local, national or toll-free number can be setup to work with VoIP. National and toll-free numbers are virtual numbers that forward incoming calls to any existing telephone number or even completely digitally straight to your VoIP account.

Even the choice of telephone - hardphone, softphone or a combination - has no impact on your use of your existing toll-free or national telephone.

So how does that work?

Callers key in your telephone number, after which your caller connects to our Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Depending on the way you have configured your servicenumber callers are put through to one of your employees.

The IVR system connects callers to any type of phone, regardless of the technology or network involved.

The big advantage of this is that you do not need to invest in new equipment.

A virtual number provided by the CallFactory is future-proof and offers unlimited scalability.
Frequently asked questions

We have listed some frequently asked questions for you below to help you answer questions you might still have about VoIP or what type of VoIP phone is the best choice for your organisation.
Can I use hardphones and softphones within one setup?

Yes, that's possible. Depending on your business structure or individual employee preference, you can use both softphones and hardphone as both are compatible with any CallFactory telephone number.

When configuring your toll-free or national telephone number on our IVR, you can specify which incoming calls should be diverted to which phones.
Can I combine VoIP with regular phones or cell phones?

That is no problem. Some organizations use mobile phones to handle the ‘overflow’ when their VoIP phones are all busy. Landlines or cellphones are also good back-ups in the event of power cuts or network failures.
Should I buy a new telephone exchange?

No, that is not necessary. When you opt for hardphones, you plug them directly into your network router.

Both softphones and hardphones are configured through a network interface. The fair distribution of incoming calls is handled by CallFactory’s IVR. In this system, you can add key features such as a Virtual Receptionist, which ensures that calls are fairly distributed over the available employees.

What about self-hosted VoIP systems?

Using a self-hosted or on-premise system, means that a company invests in –and owns– its own Private Branch eXchange (PBX) hardware. A self-hosted system really is a company’s own internal telephone system.

Businesses go this route because they expect to have more control over their exchange’s performance. However, this requires a significant investment, not just in hardware and hardware maintenance. These companies often find they need highly-trained personnel to operate and maintain PBX hardware.

The CallFactory offers a hosted IVR system, which gives you complete control over the configuration of your telephone number. It also means you don’t have to worry about large investments and equipment maintenance, allowing you more time and resources to focus on the issues that are important to your organization.
Can’t we just use our cellphones?

You certainly can. Especially when you combine this with a softphone solution, where each employee uses his or her smartphone and installs a softphone app that centrally distributes calls. In this case, employees would make and receive calls through the softphone app.

Alternatively, some large corporations or organizations register a block of numbers and then assign a separate telephone number (or extension) to each mobile phone. Incoming calls are then forwarded to the mobile phones of your employees. This is a good setup when employees only need to receive calls.

Which features can I use with my VoIP solution?

This depends on the IVR or PBX you are using.

If you have registered your toll-free or local phone number at (or transferred it to) the CallFactory, you will get full access to our suite of additional features that our cloud-IVR offers. Here are some of those free extras that are included with each package:

- Call filter
- Call queuing
- Call recording
- Direct Forward
- Fax2mail
- Manage ring-to numbers
- Mobile applications
- SMS organizer
- Statistics
- Statistics email reports
- VIP routing
- Virtual receptionist
- Voice2email
- Whisper

How do I transfer my phone number to CallFactory?

If you already own a service number, you can easily transfer it to CallFactory by contacting our customer service.

If you do not have a freephone or premium rate number yet, do take a look at the toll-free or national phone numbers we have available.

For local numbers in any country, please contact our customer service.

Please note that numbers are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis.
Any questions?

If, after reading this article, you still have questions about VoIP, the use of softphones or hardphones, or about toll-free, national and local telephone numbers, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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